Wednesday, July 20, 2016
How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen takes the reader through the different aspects of the novel, from the beginning to characters to revising and the ending, and even the tricky issue of sex in writing. It's less instructional and more "this is how different writers do things". For sure, he does tell you when he thinks a writer has failed in a particular aspects, but rarely does anything become a rule, probably because you can always find an exception to a rule.
Plus, things are never really clear cut. For example, what is irony? The book has an entire chapter on it, and he talks about a bunch of people's opinions, but it does not end in a conclusion. It ends with his opinion, but it (and a few other chapters) feel a lot like "well, we don't really know, but if it works, does it really matter?" (The answer is no. I think.)
Oh, but if you want to really enjoy this, you should (ideally) be widely read. It's ok if you're unfamiliar with the literary criticism, but if you don't know Lolita, Austen, Madame Bovary, Tolstoy (obviously), then even the quote excerpts won't help much, I think. I appreciated all the different references, but from the few that I didn't get, I imagine it can be quite confusing to others.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I like the tons of references to the classics - it felt like I was revisiting a lot of old friends, and I think the book was written in a very understandable way. Definitely recommended to people interested in literature and books.
Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.